Michigan absentee ballot requests increase 1 million from 2016

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Requests for absentee ballots in Michigan have increased by nearly 1 million compared with the same time in 2016 ahead of the state’s Aug. 4 primary, according to the Secretary of State's office.

The 350% hike represents the difference between the 378,317 applications returned 35 days prior to the 2016 election and the 1,323,922 applications returned as of June 30, 35 days before this year’s August election, said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office.

The increase is due largely to Benson’s decision in May to mail absentee ballot applications to all of Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters to encourage mail-in voting in light of the coronavirus pandemic. She used $4.5 million in federal CARES Act funding for the effort.

The mailing was made possible by a 2018 voter-approved ballot initiative establishing no-reason absentee voting in Michigan. 

“This significant increase in those requesting to vote by mail already this year confirms they recognize that this option is a safe, secure and convenient way for them to ensure their voices are heard, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” Benson said in a statement.

The state also has experienced an uptick in ballots issued, ballots returned and new voter registrations, Benson said. 

The number of ballots issued 35 days before the August primary increased from 283,731 in 2016 to 1,005,989 by June 30, and the number of ballots returned at this time increased from 17,590 in 2016 to 29,760 this year. 

New voters registrations between June 1 and June 30 increased from 23,839 in 2016 to 35,278 in 2020. 

Benson’s decision to mail absentee ballot applications to qualified voters spurred criticism from Republican legislative leaders after some residents began reporting that they received applications for people who had long since died or moved. 

Benson’s office has said individuals who receive incorrect mailings should return them to her office marked as deceased or moved. In the long run, her office said, the returned applications will help to identify individuals who should be removed from the state’s voting rolls. 

The Secretary of State's office also has maintained the mailings will not lead to voter fraud since signature verification is required on both the ballot application and actual ballot.

Benson encouraged people to mail their application as soon as possible, but voters have up until 5 p.m. the Friday before an election to get their application into their clerk. A person also can approach a clerk anytime for an absentee application and fill it out in office.